Planning Study for Finkl Steel Site Needs to Consider Transit and Biking

Biking past A. Finkl & Sons Steel
The redevelopment plan for the Finkl site should strengthen transit and bike routes and make connections to future projects.

With Finkl & Sons Steel vacating 22 acres along Cortland Street between Clybourn Avenue and the Chicago River, the U.S. Environental Protection Agency has given the economic development corporation North Branch Works $200,000 to create a plan that keeps the area industrial. As part of this process, it’s important for walking, biking, and transit to be integrated into the plan.

The site is surrounded by retail, commercial offices, and residences. Its streets should be important connections in the bike and bus network, but currently fall short of their potential. As Doug Farr, urban designer at Farr Associates, told Crain’s, “Land use and mobility always have to go together.” Transportation to and through the area needs to be examined.

Cortland is a well-used east-west bike route through the Finkl property between Lincoln Park on the east and Wicker Park to the west, and between Lincoln Park and the Elston Avenue bike lane. The Armitage Avenue bus runs on Cortland through the industrial zone in order to cross the river but there’s no bus route on Clybourn. Bus service on the street was eliminated in 1997, and a planning study to re-establish a bus route on Clybourn, from the North/Division Red Line station to the Logan Square Blue Line station, concluded last month that the CTA doesn’t have sufficient local funds to match federal funds.

Michelle Stenzel, co-leader for BikeWalk Lincoln Park told me that the area “could be incredibly vibrant and needs to be done right.”

She considered all of the existing transportation assets in the “Clybourn/Elston/Armitage/Cortland confluence” — the two-line Metra station at Armitage and Cortland, Divvy stations — and those that are coming soon. There will be an extension of the protected bike lane on Elston (a spoke route in the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020), the Ashland BRT stop at the Metra station, and the east end of the Bloomingdale Trail, currently under construction, which will stretch 2.7 miles west.

Stenzel added that site redevelopment needs to improve access to the Chicago River. This shouldn’t be an issue, as city law — on the books since 1983 — requires that any development along the river be set back 30 feet and provide “public waterfront paths, plazas, overlooks, esplanades and access points where appropriate.”

North Branch Works needs to use the two-year redevelopment planning process to take advantage of the Finkl site’s potential in Chicago’s transportation network, ensuring excellent links to the city’s bike and transit routes.

  • John

    Elston is not a Spoke Route

  • Andrew H

    What is the timeline and and plan for the study of this area and Finkl & Sons vacating? Where can I get more information? I live very close and use the Cortland bike lane and bus (Armitage) frequently. This stretch is always backed up with traffic and it takes buses forever to get through the Clyborn and Elston/Ashland intersections (Elston/Ashland is much worse). There is heavy truck traffic which would really make a future protected bike lane a great thing. Pedestrian access (safely) guiding / way-finding walkers from Clyborn across Cortland to the river, the future Bloomingdale/606 trail, and Bucktown would be really great.

  • Obvious.

    This study is a joke. The highest and best use for this property is mixed use, commercial/retail/residential, not industrial. You want to make this a discussion about mass transit, biking, and pedestrian access? Sure. Lets just start and end the discussion with the fact that redeveloping this property as an intensive mixed use district would bond two affluent neighborhood (Bucktown and Lincoln Park), allowing for safe movement between ‘hoods’ for tens of thousands of people who before had to cope with an auto wasteland.

  • Fred

    I want to see a ped bridge built across the river where the railroad bridge used to be just south of the Cortland bridge. This should connect to the 606ingdale on the west and to protected bike lanes on Clybourn or Kingsbury to the east. This would allow someone to get all the way from the western end of the 606ingdale to Old Town or River North while only interacting with traffic at intersections. Using Kingsbury and an extension of the Kinzie lanes to Dearborn would get you all the way into the loop. This is 21st century infrastructure!

  • You’re right. Elston is a “crosstown bike route”.

    The classifications don’t make a difference, though, as these two have the same priority of facility type.

    One difference is that in the S4C plan, there is a paragraph under Spoke Route that says “In addition, spoke may include enhanced intersections, colored pavement, improve surface conditions, bike signals, and improve traffic signal timing for bicycling.”

    All of these treatments have been applied to “crosstown bike routes”.

  • I think the Crain’s article linked above has the most info. It’s all quite long term. I believe FInkl has been in the process of vacating for two years already. The study will include community input, so you can be sure Bike Walk Lincoln Park will be keeping an eye on this.

  • I agree. Maybe it could look like a scaled-down version of this proposed pedestrian bridge over the Thames in London, by ARUP.

  • Jim Mitchell

    All or most of Goose Island, including the Finkl property, is within the Clybourn Planned Manufacturing District (PMD). It is legally impossible to place mixed use or residential uses on this property.

  • Obvious

    You do realize that PMD designations can be broke by the city planning department correct? This site will not remain industrial in perpetuity unless local government negligently keeps it that way.

    Rumors of the Finkl site being rezoned have been swirling for years.

  • Jim Mitchell

    Yes; I even knew and worked with some folks who were trying to accomplish just that a few years ago in connection with an earlier, unsuccessful bid by Finkl to move off Goose Island and find a another user, so it wasn’t just a rumor. The fact that City rather than Ward-specific approvals are required to create or eliminate PMDs is both their strength and their weakness; it will take a lot of effort and consensus thinking before we see that happen here, but of course it could happen if the political will were there. I haven’t seen a recent move to do that (other than hearing some of the rumors you mentioned), but I admittedly am no longer actively following it. In any case, most readers of this blog probably are not as familiar with PMDs as you are, and knowing about the PMD might help them understand why any active reuse plans are and for the time being have to remain focused on industrial/manufacturing uses.

  • Joe

    The study is a joke. The group that received the funds from the EPA essentially lied and told the EPA that the site was a brownfield site. 100% false. Whomever stated that Finkl unsuccessfully tried a few years ago to get off of Goose Island is completely incorrect. Never happened (and btw Finkl is not located on Goose Island). The company has never tried to find another user. The company has been in the process of relocating its manufacturing plant to the south side of Chicago by 93rd and Stoney Island. The company has been focused on moving its operations. So you have a community group, without the consent or assistance of the property owner, pissing away government funds to make plans for a site that they do not own and which will never be implemented. What a country.

  • Anonymous

    The DePaul arena should be there instead of at McCormick Place

  • ahhhhh

    I’ve gotten a couple of massive tire blow outs while riding by Finkl. Metal shards are abound everywhere!

  • duppie

    Another venue that does get used a few dozen times a year and sits empty at other times? A venue that, when in use, draws thousands of cars into an already congested neighborhood?

    I for sure am glad that it ended up in McCormick Place.

  • Tyler

    What do you mean, “where the railroad bridge used to be”? There is still a railroad bridge there, and it’s active and still used by trains. In fact, if plans are for the area to remain industrial, there’s a chance any new industries might be rail-served. Or was there a second railroad bridge I’m not aware of?

    Of course this doesn’t preclude building a pedestrian bridge too.

  • Bodega Mayback

    I’ve long thought of this and support the idea! Where southport ends there is actually a swing bridge that connects the old railroad to across the river and to the tracks where the bloomingdale trail begins. It would be great if they could use that portion of the finkl site to be a park and connector to Southport and Cortland bike lanes from the 606.

  • Tyler

    You’d need to build an over/underpass for the tracks that parallel 90/94, and you can’t use the actual railroad right-of-way that links the two since it’s the active Chicago Terminal Railroad, but you could consider building next to it I suppose. I agree it would be a great link to have.

  • what_eva

    No, a venue that would be close enough to campus that students could get there. A venue that could be used by a number of Depaul sports due to that proximity instead of just men’s basketball. A venue that would be much more easily accessible by transit. A venue that would be within walking distance of a much larger number of people.

  • Fred

    Interesting, I had no idea those tracks were still in use. Do you know what companies use them and how often? Could those companies be relocated to the south or west sides or switch to using container cars with a mini inter-modal facility built nearby where the containers could be moved to trucks for the last mile?

    Or could the bridge there be converted to be like the one just south of North Ave that is a combo ped/rail bridge? Just close the bridge on the occasions where a train needs to cross but otherwise stay open to peds/bikes?

  • Bodega Mayback

    I don’t really think that swing bridge gets used much anymore. I think the biggest worry would be the two metra lines that meet at the Clybourn stop and continue south to Ogilvie. You can’t just eliminate that right of way. It would be great if there was some more communication about the use of the other tracks around there. I’ve seen train cars on the portion of railroad that is west of the swing bridge and east of where it has a bridge over elston. I’ve also seen them where southport ends on the finkl property. I think they are just sitting there idly. I’m really excited for the potential of this area. If Finkl is leaving this year why wasn’t this study started two years ago?

  • Tyler

    The Chicago Terminal Railroad uses the bridge. They run about once a week, I believe. They need to use this route to reach all of their remaining customers (a lumber company on Goose Island, and I forget where the rest are now…many have been closing in the past few years, including Finkl itself, which they used to serve).

    I’d be very hesitant about kicking the railroad out if industry is to remain. You’d definitely rather have tracks than trucks.

  • Anton Cermak

    PMD can’t be broken by HED alone. It has to go through the same process that they have to approve it: Plan Commission and City Council approval to dissolve. It’s much more than a simple zoning change.

  • Bodega Mayback

    Now that the CMH rebuild is (almost) greenlit, can we focus on this? I’d hate to have this site vacant for 2+ years like CMH before any plans become official.

  • T.G. Crewe

    Keep it Industrial.

  • Timothy Brian Padden

    It is unfortunate that DePaul University didn’t negotiate build their new 10,000 seat Chicago arena on the A. Finkl & Sons Co. property, not very far SW of the Lincoln Park Campus. I feel keeping the site a PMD restricts planning for the site that could be very visionary possibly extending the Clybourn Corridor north and possibly having residential on site (once the toxins are cleared from the Finkl site).

  • Timothy Brian Padden

    The CMH redevelopment is being delayed due to lawsuits from neighborhood organizations on which CMH sits (Mid-North Association and Park West Community Association). The CMH site is surrounded by zoning that doesn’t allow residents to build over 7 stories, yet the developer (McCaffery) wants to build 2 gigantic high rises (22 stories including mechanical penthouses) as well as moving loading of the site from Lincoln Avenue to Fullerton Avenue (already overcrowded) as well as overbuilding retail in this slowly recovering economy where many buy online.